Never in doubt! City 3 QPR 2
With literally five minutes remaining of the most pulsating Premier League season in history, Manchester City were on course for the ‘title’ - but not the one they craved after 44 barren years.
The title ‘Typical City’ was set to stick forever as football’s perennial under achievers seemed hell bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against an under siege, undermanned Queen’s Park Rangers.
As the seconds ticked by the sheer horror of what would be the greatest anti-climax - even by City’s own extraordinarily bizarre standards – had enveloped every man, woman and child sporting sky blue.
Gut wrenching agony gripped the cursed City support, tears of anguish were already stinging reddened eyes as the Blue Moon prepared to plummet from its upward trajectory with QPR hanging on to the most unlikely 2-1 lead and with it, their own Premier League survival.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It couldn’t end this way…could it?
City were odds on favourites going into the match. Proud possessors of the best home record in the league, unbeaten in 17 months, on the cusp of finally laying demons to rest and wrenching the biggest prize in English football from their all conquering neighbours.
That they did so with virtually the last kick of the craziest ever PL campaign can surely never be surpassed.
When Edin Dzeko levelled the score three minutes into added time it seemed academic. City had to win to edge past Manchester United and grab the glory on goal difference.
The Cup for ‘Cock Ups’ – once so eloquently articulated by City legend Francis Lee - was destined for the City trophy cabinet until the 94th minute when Sergio Aquero darted into the QPR box, took a Balotelli pass in his stride and shot City into a sky blue heaven of delirium and disbelief.
It was a goal of seismic proportions with a huge shock wave reverberating from the Etihad to the Stadium of Light. Fergie, Rooney and Co were tentatively celebrating their own incredulous ‘Great Escape’ having seemingly retained their title against all the odds.
The day began in the almost universal belief that this was City’s Day of Atonement - the mesmerizing myriad of twists and turns at the top of the table had finally run its course.
When Pablo Zabaleta put the Champions-Elect ahead in the 39th minute with his first goal of the season it all seemed so straight forward. The fact a Wayne Rooney goal had United leading Sunderland 1-0 was immaterial – all City had to do was win and sky blue ribbons would adorn the aesthetically challenged, but much coveted PL trophy.
Even the loss of birthday boy and powerhouse talisman Yaya Toure to a hamstring injury before half time was deemed an irrelevance as City dominated possession.
The party atmosphere juddered to a dramatic halt courtesy of a howler of a header from the accomplished Joleon Lescott. The insipid glanced touch back towards Joe Hart fell horrifically short and into the path of Djibril Cisse. The QPR hitman buried his shot past the City keeper.
QPR had offered all the threat of a blancmange and yet were now level. Spurred by the prospect of a Bolton win at Stoke, Rangers needed to avoid defeat to preserve their top flight status.
The fact Mark Hughes’ side avoided the drop despite losing this encounter was hardly helped by the football delinquent known as Joey Barton. It wasn’t enough that having been red carded for elbowing Carlos Tevez in the face, Barton then felled Aguero with a snide kick from behind and attempted to head butt City skipper Vincent Kompany.
It was a sickening spectacle but strangely served to galvanise the West Londoners. As City launched wave upon wave of attacks they were exposed by a breakaway attack and Jamie Mackie plunged City into unutterable despair with a scoring header. 2-1 to QPR.
The unthinkable was now becoming a harrowing reality for the overwhelming majority of the record 48,000 Etihad capacity crowd.
Possession - and City had 81% - may rank as 9/10ths of the law but it was getting Mancini’s men nowhere fast as they now laboured without sophistication, infected by the all pervading panic being transmitted from the crushed home fans.
The introduction of Dzeko for Gareth Barry and six minutes later, Super/Mad Mario for Tevez, brought a sharper cutting edge up front and an aerial threat previously missing.
Sure enough it was the big Bosnian – effectively City’s 4th choice striker – who breached QPR’s stoical defence with a clean header from a David Silva corner in the 92nd minute.
Yes, the desperate City fans cheered, but it was an exultation tempered with resignation that it was just too little too late. United had already won 1-0 and were two points clear at the top.
At the other end of the table Bolton had been held 2-2 and a jubilant QPR bench and supporters celebrated. Win, lose or draw they were staying up.
From the restart Rangers inexplicably hoofed the ball deep into City territory like a rugby team seeking to get downfield and gain territorial advantage. Not so with the round ball game and back came City surging forward in search of their Holy Grail.
Deep into the 94th minute and De Jong nudged a ball through to the irrepressible Aguero 30 yards out from Paddy Kenny’s goal.
The Argentine pocket rocket – thigh muscles pumping like pistons – fired a quick give and go to Balotelli, powered into the penalty area, eluded a desperate tackle and unleashed the goal of goals to send City into frenzied, untamed bedlam.
Typical City - no more! Four digits were forever immortal in the history of English football, four digits seared into the psyche of every Manchester City fan, the four digits of 93:20 - culminating in the wildest, wackiest and most wonderful season finale ever seen, before or after.
The commentary of Martin Tyler encapsulated the moment: "I swear you'll never see anything like this ever again, so watch it, drink it in..."
Incredible, unbelievable, beyond the wildest imaginings - Manchester City had snatched the title in dramatic fashion beyond compare.
By David Walker